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June 2011 Archives

Even If You're Not Named On The Lease, You May Still Have Rights to the Apartment

There are situations in which a family member occupied a rent-regulated unit and moved out, leaving it to a relative who continues to pay the rent. Or sometimes individuals marry and occupy an apartment with a spouse, then subsequently divorce, and the remaining party wasn't on the lease. These are just a couple examples of the wide variety of fact-specific situations that may or may not lend themselves to your retaining a tenancy, when at first you're not named on the lease.

Get Maintenance and Support Retroactively

In some divorces, temporary support orders are not pursued, for a variety of reasons. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that maintenance and support won't eventually have to be paid. If you or your child receive public assistance, or you're in danger of becoming homeless, your lawyer can petition the court to order payment of maintenance and support back to the commencement date of the divorce. Alternatively, the court might authorize these payments from the time a parent or the children became eligible for public assistance. 

How and When to Report Your Landlord

If you believe that your landlord is breaking a law or violating a regulation, you can call 311 to find out which city agency may be able to assist you. There may be more than one. But if you report your landlord and are in a non-regulated apartment, the landlord isn't likely to renew your lease. Terminating your lease may be deemed as retaliatory eviction, which is prohibited, however these are difficult cases to win. To begin with, if your complaint doesn't specifically relate to your rights as a tenant, your situation might not fit the criteria for a retaliatory eviction case. While a tenant's attorney may be able to negotiate a renewal, there's no guarantee and you'll have to pay legal fees. For example, reporting that your landlord is renting out an illegal basement apartment won't do you any good, unless those neighbors are in some way directly impairing your rights, by being noisy, compromising your safety, etc. So think twice before you file a report just because you have a strained relationship with the landlord. Vengefulness isn't a good idea. 

Get a Copy of Everything You Sign

Lawyers are often amazed at the number of clients who will sign legal documents without getting copies of them. A common scenario occurs when a renter is looking for an apartment and dealing with a real estate broker. Brokers routinely have prospective tenants sign leases and forward them to the landlord for approval. It is not unheard of for a landlord to then change the lease a new tenant signed before returning it. Without a copy of the original, you'll have a hard time proving that the landlord changed the terms of the agreement after you agreed to them. Changes of this type are improper, but are hard to prove or correct. That's true even if you hire an attorney and try to subpoena the original documents, or attempt to establish evidence by cross-examination of the broker in court. It's an expensive proposition. So get and keep copies of whatever you put your signature on. 

How to Break a Lease with a Claim of Constructive Eviction

It isn't easy, but is certainly sometimes a valid defense. If the conditions in your apartment are bad enough to make the unit unlivable, or expose you to a clear and present danger, it is possible to discontinue your lease obligations and not be responsible for rent charges under the remaining term. You have in effect been "constructively evicted" by the landlord's unconscionable lack of service.

Receive your support payments in a dedicated bank account

Instead of waiting for your ex to send you a check for money you're due every month, one option is to require a deposit in a dedicated account at a mutually acceptable bank, with branches conveniently located for both parties. The account is set up in your name only, and he or she can only make deposits. Every month on or before the specified day, a deposit is to be made in the agreed upon amount. The advantage of this arrangement is that there are no lost check issues, mail delays, and there is clear documentation as to whether payments were made on time or not. If your spouse has had a history of not paying bills in a timely manner, you may want to ask your lawyer to pursue this arrangement. 

Retain Your Rights to a Rent-Stabilized Apartment When a Relationship Ends

A relatively common scenario with rent-regulated leases involves two people living in an apartment, with both names on the lease. When the relationship ends, one moves out. What are their respective rights? First, the remaining occupant continues to retain rent-stabilized status, as long as he or she continues to pay the full rent, and comply with the other provisions of the lease. The party who vacates is still legally responsible for the rent, as long as both names are on the lease. It's possible to ask the landlord to change the lease to reflect the occupant's name only, but the landlord isn't required to. It may involve a negotiation in which the departing individual signs an agreement forgoing all rights to the apartment and a rent-stabilized tenancy. 

A Prenuptial Agreement Can Protect You from Your Partner's Premarital Debts

If you want to marry someone who's swimming in debt, it's worth considering a prenuptial agreement for that reason alone. If your marriage ends, the prenup can protect you from having to pay back debts that were never yours in the first place. Without this protection, if you and your spouse join finances and then get divorced, you may share responsibility for repaying part of your spouse's debts. Even someone who would normally object to signing a prenup can see how this is a reasonable suggestion and is fair for both of you to agree to. 

If Your Building is Foreclosed, Pay the Landlord Until Further Notice

If your building goes into foreclosure or bankruptcy, continue paying rent to the landlord until you receive legal notice to do otherwise. The court may appoint a receiver to collect the rent and maintain the property. Until then, in order to protect your rights as a tenant, send the rent to the landlord. Be sure to retain a copy of your payment with proof that it was paid. In certain instances, you may want to hold on to the money until the proceedings determine who should receive the rent. However, this is a decision best made with the advice of an attorney, since it's possible to jeopardize your tenancy if you don't pay. Unless the conditions have deteriorated, you owe the rent. But if services decline, as they sometimes do in these situations, it's worth it to consider organizing a Tenants' Association. Then all residents can contribute to retaining a Landlord Tenant attorney to guard your collective and individual rights. If conditions get really bad, you may want to initiate a rent strike, and bring a suit called an "HP" proceeding in Housing Court to get repairs. 

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